Over one fifth of the world’s population consists of women of childbearing age. Menstruation is a natural and essential part of the reproductive cycle – on average, a woman spends seven years of her life menstruating. Therefore, Menstrual Health (MH) is an important aspect of sexual and reproductive health. Moreover, it is a highly relevant theme in Bangladesh as it plays a role in the interplay between health, hygiene and development issues.
Though MH has recently gained attention in the global development agenda, it is still a taboo topic in many countries, including Bangladesh, where cultural beliefs and social norms restrict the participation of women and girls in society during menstruation. In addition, limited access to clean water, proper sanitation facilities and sanitary napkins make it difficult for women to manage their menstruation hygienically. As a result, many (young) women face considerable physical and social challenges during menstruation.
Bangladesh is currently experiencing rapid economic growth and industrialisation. As well as the rest of the country, this also has a positive impact on the situation of Bangladeshi women and girls, as shown by more girls enrolling in junior secondary school, girls and women’s improved academic performance, and more young women participating in (formal) employment.
At the same time, Bangladesh remains a country with deep-rooted cultural traditions that determine gender roles and form the basis of gender discrimination against girls and women. Many Bangladeshi girls and women face malnutrition and gender based violence, while child maternal mortality rates are high. The Ritu programme is positioned within this contrast of steady economic growth and regressive social and cultural barriers that prevent girls and women from exercising their basic rights.
• Improved health and well-being of girls between 10 and 13 years in Netrakona, Bangladesh.
• Improve menstrual hygiene and related well-being of girls between 10 and 13 years in Netrakona, Bangladesh.
• Increased knowledge and improved attitudes and practice on menstrual hygiene of girls, boys, men and women.
• Increased commitment towards menstrual hygiene management by the government and civil society in Bangladesh.
• Women and girls have access to better MHM facilities at schools and affordable (biodegradable) sanitary napkins.
Together with RedOrange -a Bangladeshi media and communication agency-, knowledge institute TNO, and with support of the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands (EKN), Simavi will implement the Ritu programme to promote menstrual hygiene management in Bangladesh. Our main goal is to structurally improve the health, wellbeing, and social and economic participation of women and girls.
The programme uses a integrated threefold approach:
1. Empower girls, women, men and boys (communities) to have a better understanding of MHM and engage in healthy behaviour, including accessing safe and quality MHM services.
Ritu will make information available addressing taboos and provide practical information on how to manage menstruation in a hygienic matter. We will engage with girls, women, men and boys at different levels: besides direct community and school-based interventions we will also launch a public communications campaign. In addition, following the rapid ICT development in Bangladesh and increased access to mobile information and services, we will develop an interactive website and launch a Facebook campaign.
2. Build an enabling environment in which government and civil society actors show more commitment towards MHM.
We aim to build on and strengthen existing and future interventions on MHM in Bangladesh. For this to happen, investment must be secured for an enabling environment where the public sector contributes to the improvement of MHM. With the right policies and their proper implementation, the government can create an enabling environment for improved menstrual hygiene. We plan to create a network of stakeholders that will be involved in joint advocacy for MHM’s inclusion in the training curriculum of teacher-training colleges.
3. Ensure that affordable and sustainable MHM services are in place and utilised.
Therefore TNO, in collaboration with the Bangladeshi private sector, will develop a biodegradable sanitary napkin that will enter mass production and be distributed all over Bangladesh.
To ensure sustainable change, every service and activity is implemented according to Simavi’s FIETS principles. The FIETS approach is implemented throughout the Ritu programme to enhance its impact.
This programme was still in inception phase in 2016. A thorough needs assesment has been conducted and the baseline was recently completed.